Sunday, June 28, 2009

Supervillain Schemes

Another essay for Everything Explained Through Flowcharts. I'm not really happy with this one yet. Not sure why not though. You'll have to imagine the graphics for the sidebars that are noted inside the brackets.


It sucks to be a villain. How would you feel if every time one of your plans failed (that soufflĂ© you burnt, that lop-sided sweater you knitted, or that child of yours who turned gay) everybody clapped? You’d be feel rotten, that’s how you’d feel. And you’d swear vengeance! [See Figure 1: Parting Oaths] Now, also consider the fact that supervillain schemes almost always fail. [See Figure 2: Supervillain Scheme Success Rate], and it’s easy to understand why villains are always scowling from the balcony of their mountain fortress.

(sidebar) FIGURE 1:

Parting oaths

  1. You have not seen the last of (your name)!
  2. You will rue the day you crossed (your name)!
  3. Vengeance shall be mine!
  4. My memory is as long as my reach.
  5. I’ll try harder next time!
  6. Every dog has his day!


(sidebar) FIGURE 2:


Supervillain Scheme Success Rate

Scheme succeeds: 5%

Scheme thwarted: 80%

Scheme succeeds, but only for a moment, then is thwarted: 15%


I know I shouldn’t feel any sympathy for supervillains; that, if they had their way, I’d be toiling in the methane mines of Titan, or be just another pile of bones beneath their throne of skulls. Although I can’t empathize with the black-hearted motivations behind their schemes, I still, unfortunately have more in common with supervillains than I do with superheroes. (Although I have little in common with either, because super isn’t an adjective that describes me well.) [see Figure 3: Things Super About Me] Rarely have I swooped in, saved the day, and been carried off on the shoulders of a cheering crowd. However, there have been many, many times when the poorly constructed plans that I dreamed about for months collapsed into shambles. (See Failures chart, page xx.) I can remember clearly the rickety skateboard half-pipe I built in the backyard that broke a friend’s leg, the useless philosophy degree I got in college, the awful band I formed in junior high. (We were called Leaky Stigmata. We only ever played one show, in the back room of a pizza shop, before a heated argument about “selling out” tore the band apart.) [See Figure 4 for Leaky Stigmata logo.] The only time I’ve come close to saving the day was when we went camping and I was the only one who remember to bring the ingredients to make s’mores.


(Sidebar) FIGURE 3:

How I’m super

  1. Super crabby in the morning
  2. Super hairy in unusual places
  3. Super stumbly after drinking lots of wine
  4. Super self-deprecating
  5. Super shy around strangers


Scheming is a distinctly villainous activity. Heroes certainly don’t scheme, they just wait around for the villains to do something, then stop it. Villains spend months, perhaps years, planning complex schemes—building lasers, breeding super-smart apes, searching catacombs for magical stones—and then, just when they’ve almost succeeded, just when their scheme is almost finally accomplished, a red light will begin blinking on the console of the superhero’s crime fighting computer. The hero will put down their newspaper, say something corny, and then fly over and punch the villain into submission. “Nice try, Dr. X! Maybe next time you should build a bigger robot.” Then the hero will go on vacation, perhaps to a tropical island somewhere, and walk down the beach kicking over sand castles.

 Supervillains are kind of asking for it though, since their schemes are always absurdly complicated. Why shrink the hero and make him battle a scorpion when you could just shoot him in the face? Or, if he’s already shrunk, why not just squish him? Ruling the world or destroying one's nemesis isn’t enough for a supervillain, he also has to accomplish it in a grandiose way. Often it seems that schemes are chosen more for their dramatic effect than their chance of success or degree of efficacy. [See Figure 4: Schemes With Impressive Visuals.]


(sidebar) FIGURE 3: Schemes With Impressive Visuals


  1. Floating battle zeppelin
  2. Barely controllable monstrosity
  3. Giant insect army
  4. Your face carved on the moon


This flair for the theatrical is the supervillain’s Achilles heel, but it’s also what separates him from run-of-the-mill hoodlums in the first place. The common thug’s brilliant scheme to rob the bank by walking in and pulling out a gun—although effective—is not on this chart. Yes, most supervillain schemes are guaranteed to fail, but at least they will fail spectacularly, grandly—a flaming comet streaking through the night sky (and hopefully striking something important).

Everything Explained Through Flowcharts

Did you know I'm writing a book of flowcharts? I am. Each chart is preceded by an essay with some smaller charts and diagrams, illustrations. One of the flowcharts is all about salad dressing. Here's the essay I just wrote for it. Let me know what you think.


 I know what a lot of you are thinking—that the inclusion of salad dressing in this book is a crude and transparent attempt to appeal to readers’ baser instincts; another shameful example of the commercialization of salad dressing, an exploitation that pervades our culture like the strangling tendrils of a fleshy vine (your words, not mine). 

 Nothing could be further from the truth. The discussion of salad dressing here is meant to educate, not scintillate. Like yourselves I am shocked at the ubiquity of salad dressing in the mainstream media. I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with salad dressing—when used properly. Good dressing—used judiciously, applied prudently—is the glue that holds a salad together. But the wonton portrayal of salad dressing in the mainstream media is anything but healthy or prudent.

 Let me describe a commercial I saw on TV the other day: Fade in on a black marble kitchen counter. A techno beat pulses tribally in the background. The camera zooms in close on a chilled salad bowl. The bowl is filled with fresh, plump produce, beaded with moisture, partying on a bed of lettuce: hothouse tomatoes lounge near the bowl’s lip; twin sprigs of frisee frolic between French-slivered carrot sticks; a firm, quartered cucumber dances with a cluster of cauliflower. A husky woman’s voiceover says “What’s sexier than undressing?”

 (Sensitive readers please stop reading here and proceed to the Legumes chart, page xx.)

  In slow motion, a massive bottle lowers into frame above the bowl and douses the salad in thick, creamy, homestyle Ranch dressing. The veggies squeal in delight. Close-up, quick cuts of the tomatoes, the carrot sticks, a giggling gaggle of baby spinach, laughing and splashing in the gooey cream, smearing it all over each others’ bodies. [FIGURE 1: Illustration]

 The woman’s voice breaks in again “. . . Dressing.”

 And then I threw up in my popcorn bowl.

 If you think this kind of filth is only on Cinemax you are wrong. I saw this commercial at 3pm on a Tuesday in the middle of Boy Meets World. Oh the irony of that title! Because this is exactly how so many of our young people (boys) are learning about the salad dressing around them (meeting the world, so to speak). [See figure 2 for full metaphor equation.]


(footnote) FIGURE 2

Boy = Young People

Meets = Learn About = +

World = Salad dressing

Young People + Salad Dressing – Education = Teenage Wasteland

Teenage Wasteland = awesome song/parental nightmare


The crucial variable that separates healthy salad dressing users from dressing abusers is education, and that knowledge is exactly what the Salad Dressing chart can facilitate.

 “But I don’t want my kids to know about dressing!” you whine in a wimpy voice.

 Don’t begrudge your children their natural salad dressing curiosity. Remember that once, not long ago, you too were young and hungry. We can all remember nights when we parked under a burnt out streetlamp and greedily gobbled a take-out salad in the front seat of our hatchback. Or that electric summer night when we plowed through an entire bottle of rich poppy seed dressing, Thunder Road blaring in the background.

 Heck, you might even find your own salads revitalized by one of the dressings on this chart. Maybe you’ve been nibbling greens for twenty years and need a little something to spice things up. How about a French flair spritzer? Or some Garlic Lover’s Sour Cream Caesar with cracked peppercorns? You’re never too old to try something new, and you might be surprised by the zest and flavor some of the new dressings offer. You’ll be shocked to discover that many dressings considered outre twenty years ago are now commonplace. Just look at the proliferation of hot bacon and Asian dressings in your grocery store’s condiment aisle.

 The bottom line is, whether you like it or not, your kids are going to learn about salad dressing—that’s not up to you. But what is up to you is how your kids learn about dressing. Do you want them to learn about it by being eyeball groped by a slick TV commercial with Gwen Stefani dressed as a carrot? Or by having an uncomfortable, borderline creepy conversation with you on the edge of their bunkbead? [See figure 3: Best places to talk to your children about salad dressing.]


(footnote) FIGURE 3:

  1. Ice cream parlor
  2. Around a campfire, woven seamlessly into a ghost story
  3. The Natural History Museum’s Salad Dressing Exhibit
  4. Their wedding night
  5. Fishing trip/rowboat
  6. In the backyard, tossing the old pigskin around
  7. The midst of a three-legged race


The choice is yours. 

The Ministry of Secret Jokes 6/24/09

The June Ministry was good. Good crowd, good sets from all the comics. I was really excited about my new suit too. Some people liked it, and some people were just jealous.

John Kensil won Hack!, the game where three contestants are given the setup of a hacky joke, and then have to write their own punchline in 60 seconds. My favorite punchline of the game was Luke's answer to the first joke. The setup was "Two old people went into a closet to have sex. They started to take their clothes off when the woman realized she should warn the man about her heart condition. 'I should warn you,' she said, 'I have acute angina.'"

That was the setup. The contestants then had 60 seconds to write the punchline. Luke's punchline was: "That's alright, I'm a ghost. You're a ghost too. We're both ghosts. We've been dead since the beginning of the movie."

Ten time Omniana champion Brendan Kennedy finally lost the belt to Benny Michaels. It was a good battle. Benny pretty much ignored most of Brendan's arguments, and just maintained a sort of positive confidence. There was a lengthy portion of the battle that involved Benny farting on Brendan, although I can't remember why. Benny's character had a quote, "It's my birthday," which bore no relation to anything else on the card, so that was kind of weird. Benny's closing argument was simply "Who's birthday is it?" as he held his card aloft. Everyone cheered, and then he won.

There was a folk act on right after the show. They were driving across the country playing different gigs. They told me they almost didn't do the show after looking at our website, because they thought the website looked scary.

That's it. Shazam.

First Blog Post Ever

This is the first blog of the rest of my life.